We asked Georgina Kieru, Service Manager at African Family Services – a specialist service organisation established to serve the African-Australian community in Victoria, to reflect on her experiences with periods and the menstrual taboo.
For me the relationship I have with my periods is a hate and love relationship. I can remember going to a mixed school and struggling on my period days. It was embarrassing if you stained your dress and boys would tease you about it. Now that I look back it united us as women to protect each other from the shame that was associated with periods. As girls, we would always check each other’s dresses/pants or skirts when we stood up and make sure we did not have period stains.
At the time this felt normal, taking your sweater and wrapping it around your waist to hide the period stain. I still think this is something that happens in Kenyan schools. Our teachers endorsed it so we did not feel the need to question it. Our teachers felt they were making sure we weren’t embarrassed and we could still hold on to our dignity in class. I can see their reasoning was from a good place, however we should have been teaching boys to understand periods are a normal cycle for women.
Looking back, I do not understand why we needed to keep our periods secret. It is a natural process and we should not have to pass pads to each other secretly in a book or tampon swaps from palm to palm. If I could go back to my younger days I would approach boys who teased us differently. I would feel less anxious to stand without having a friend give me confirmation I have a stain. This would not be my normal!
Sadly, only recently I went to a tree top adventure and at the reception they requested for our bags for storage. I had already handed the bag to the male attendant when I realised I forgot my tampon. I quickly asked for my small bag and I was conflicted how to securely remove it without him seeing it. I quickly put it on my palm with him watching. This is the kind of behaviour that I must unlearn even as an adult. The association of shame and periods is like an automatic response when surrounded by a man.
The positive experience in unlearning this behaviour for me is going to the supermarket and buying a pack of pads or tampons and walking out without a bag. I hold them in my palms and normalise this for myself, there is nothing to be ashamed of. I want to have a different relationship with my periods, I want to know more. I must get through the shame to understand my body better and to have a positive relationship with my cycle. I don’t want to dread having periods! I know my experience will prepare me for motherhood and to become an exceptional aunt to my nieces.
We thank Georgina for her insightful blog, and her courage in exploring and writing about her lived experience of menstrual shame. For a thorough investigation into shame and the menstrual taboo see About Bloody Time which can be bought from the VWT Shop or at www.fertility.com.au.
Georgina Kieru is a Client Service Officer at Australian Red Cross and former Services Manager at African Family Services. She studied Social Work (Honours) and Social Science (Psychology) and is passionate about social justice and gender equality. In her spare time, she likes to watch educational films that create room for discussions and inspire growth. Working in an African Australian female lead organisation was such an empowering position in the beginning of my career path and the closest thing to home. I have the Victorian Women’s Trust to thank for also supporting my previous role at African Family Services and the Chalice Foundation who have created an important platform to connect and learn more about menstruation.